God is righteous. God does not conform to that standard, as if righteousness is an objective standard outside of Him. No! One of God’s distinguishing qualities is that He is intrinsically upright and just. Righteousness is a part of God’s very essence. Just as God is “holy-holy-holy,” He is righteous-righteous-righteous. He is perfect, just, faithful, righteous, and upright (Deu. 32:4). He is righteous, loves righteous deeds, and the upright shall behold His face (Ps. 11:7). He reigns from a throne of righteousness and justice and wields the same (Ps. 89:14; Heb. 1:8). From His throne He pronounces righteous statutes and ordinances as they are an extension of His nature (Ps. 119:137, 138, 142, 144, 172; Deu. 4:8). He is the source of righteousness.
God is immutable. He will always be true to His nature (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8). All God does conforms perfectly to what is right and just because righteousness and justness emanates from Him. Because God is righteous and just, His actions righteous and just. Yahweh is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works (Ps. 145:17). In His holiness, justice, and righteousness God must exact punishment on those who act contrary to His law (Isa. 5:16; Rom. 3:23; Hab. 1:13;Ps. 7:9-13; Rom. 2:5-6, 3:5, 6:23a; Eph. 2:1-3). Because He is loving and gracious, sinners are saved (Ex. 34:6; 1 John 4:8-10; John 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; Tit. 3:3-7; Eph. 2:5, 8). The holiness and justice of God must punish sin, but His righteousness will apply the punishment. It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who…know not God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 1:6-8). Likewise, salvation from sin is God’s loving-grace, but His righteousness will provide His loving-grace (Rom. 1:16-17,3:23-26; 2 Cor. 8:9; Tit. 2:11). The cross perfectly displays God’s righteousness to punish sin and save from it.
Free moral agents can act righteously. God’s law is the righteousness we must conform to. The ones that keep God’s law are righteous. In our relative righteousness we can express attitudes and behaviors of piety and good works and of trust and dependence upon God. It would be Israel’s righteousness if they kept God’s law (Deu. 6:25). Those who had God’s law in their heart knew righteousness. If a man is righteous and does what is just (lawful) and right… walks in [God’s] statutes, and keeps [His] rules by acting faithfully-he is righteous; he shall surely live… (Eze. 18:5, 9). Jesus teaches to hunger, thirst, and seek after righteousness. (Matt. 5:6, 6:33). Paul instructed to pursue and be slaves to righteousness (Rom.6:18, 2 Tim. 2:22). Righteousness is something to be instructed in, not just to be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17), but that the individual may be preserved in the day our Lord (Matt. 7:21-23). John catechized the church, teaching the practice of righteousness makes one righteous (1 John 3:7).
At the same time the OT and NT depicts humankind as lacking righteousness. The psalmist did not want God to judge him because no man living is righteous in His sight (Ps. 143:2). Solomon observed, Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins (Ecc. 7:20). Paul, in quoting the Old Testament said, There is none righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10), for all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). If the Lord were to mark iniquities no one would be able to stand (Ps. 130:8). It has been aptly noted that because of this predicament we can only be saved by being accounted righteous (Rom. 4:1-12). This is only possible because of the righteousness of Christ and the result is our being righteous, justified, and innocent before God (Rom. 1:16-17; 3:22-26; Phil. 3:9; 2 Cor. 5:21). This imputed righteousness is through faith (Rom. 4:20-25, Gal. 3:26-27, Col. 2:11,12). We are made righteous by the righteousness of Christ, having obtained it by faith in Him and His blood (Rom. 3:23-26, Eph. 2:8-9). We too can be righteous absolutely, but only through Christ. And to be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith… to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Phil. 3:9; Eph. 4:24).